Friday, August 29, 2014

by Hampton Sides

They should never have listened to that crackpot August Petermann. The most famous German cartographer in the world believed that there was an Open Polar Sea beyond the crippling ice where warm waters flowed into a fertile outcropping of land. Because of this ridiculous theory, George Washington De Long, a young U.S. Navy officer, decided to embark to the North Pole in 1879 on a ship named the USS Jeannette.
James Gordon Bennett, Jr., funded the entire expedition. He was eccentric and extremely wealthy, and owner of The New York Herald. Oh, how he loved sensationalism. (Previously, Bennett had sent his reporter Stanley to Africa and found Dr. Livingstone.) The country was obsessed with "Arctic fever" and writing about it would bring even more money into his newspaper.
In the summer of 1879, De Long sailed from San Francisco leaving his wife and young daughter behind. He commanded a group of thirty-two men. Off they went using maps with incorrect information where nobody knew what existed beyond the nether regions.
Eventually, while traveling north of the Bering Strait, the ship got stuck in pack ice and they became trapped. They all had to get off onto an ice cap. The Jeannette sank and there they were marooned with not too many supplies and not exactly close enough to get to Siberia, which was one thousand miles away. The explorers knew that they could not stay in this spot. Using three open boats, the men divided up and battled storms, the frozen sea, frostbite, starvation, while struggling to reach the coastline.
Just when you think there can't possibly be another book about polar exploration, we are offered up one heck of a story. Hampton Sides is a master writer and teller of tales. By using letters, journals, old and dusty documents, Sides was able to recreate the harrowing adventure and keep you riveted to your seat.
At a little more than 400 pages, it really doesn't seem that long, because you can't stop reading.
In the Kingdom of Ice is a spectacular piece of work.
Very highly recommended.